There is an impending food shortage crisis, and the ambassadors for biotechnology are eager to provide a solution. The claim is that genetically engineered crops produce higher yields. There is controversy over the genetic manipulation of crops on a multitude of points, but most agree that an answer to the need of a growing population must be found. The conditions of starvation and malnutrition that exist in parts of the world are pointed to as the future for all unless it is addressed. So let’s look at the reasons behind these food shortages more closely.
There are just too many people to feed, is the simple reason given. The magnitude of the world’s population is unsustainable. Nations under pressure to compete in an ever more competitive world food market are considering the compromising decision of embracing biotechnology. Genetically engineered salmon is offered as an answer to overfishing. The problems are visible and obvious, but are the causes as straightforward as they seem? Could it be that this looming global starvation is really just a manipulated distribution of resources?
Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen said that it is governments that make the difference in times of famine. He pointed out that food supplies aren’t significantly reduced during such times. This means that food is sold to those that can afford the higher prices, neglecting the greater poor and rural populations. The problem according to Sen is the uneven distribution of food rather than the ratio of food to people. He also points to wars and the shifts of industry that can create a vulnerable imbalance in nation’s economies as major factors.
In developing nations, as the population abandons farming to compete in business and technologies, food prices rise. In the U.S. this was remedied with the industrialization of farming and the creation of Agribusiness. With industrialized farming, more food could be produced at a lower cost. Systematically, factory farming and food cartels have replaced the small farmer. Today, the percentage of the U.S. population involved in growing food is only 2-3%, a shift from 1870 when it was between 70-80%. The average American is completely out of touch with where his food comes from and how it is grown. One might argue that industrialized farming and Agribusiness has allowed the U.S. to be a world leader, but when does something that appears to be good turn bad?
A developing country with a populace struggling to raise its living standards would buy the cheapest food, and that’s what Agribusinesses are happy to step in and provide. A political tactic used in cooperation with international food cartels is to undercut a nations farming population, creating dependence on imports. As the diversity and strength of small farms disappear, withholding food or raising prices can then be strategically used to destabilize a country or to coerce cooperation. Instead of building national wealth by buying locally, a countries’ resources are siphoned away through importing what could be supplied from within. Control of a nation, then, becomes quite easily obtained. Not with war, but with food, or the lack of it. But if it is war that is wanted for a regime change, a hungry, rioting population certainly delivers.
The fear of offending the God of Capitalism that seems to pervade Western culture has resulted in the slow erosion of ethics which keep it in balance. The ethics that defend the public against harm in the pursuit of profits, monopolization of an industry, and denial of basic human rights in favor of corporate interests, is what allows capitalism to work for the majority of us. The abandonment or twisting of ethics is very profitable for some, and seems to benefit economies, for a while. But if you start to pay attention to how laws that once protected the public have changed, is it really so surprising that we are where we are? A crisis is presented, a solution is offered, and we end up with less personal freedoms.
Food shortages seem remote and unreal in this land of plenty. Blissfully unaware, we’re in deeper trouble than we realize. Our economy is drained, and our rights concerning food have been quietly bargained away. For our “safety” a heavily protested bill, S 510, was recently passed to bury the small farmer in red tape and regulations. A further concern over the bill is that the language allows for regulation over homegrown foods as well. No money is one thing, but what about food, a basic right? Even without the imposition of food regulation laws, the patenting of engineered seeds has changed the whole concept of food rights, turning what was once very simple into a complex issue.
Genetically modified seeds can be engineered to commit suicide after one harvest, leaving the farmer dependent on the corporation supplying the seed instead of saving seeds from harvest to harvest. Farmers must also use the chemical herbicides and pesticides that these seeds are engineered to tolerate. Through the inevitability of cross contamination, these genetically modified, patented organisms could invade the entire food supply. Imagine that. Could this be a goal of biotech companies in a world in which profit comes before anything else? The effort by these corporations to set a precedent in successfully suing farmers whose crops have been contaminated with patented genetic material reveals the intent.
The suspicion towards biotechnology and it’s potential use for political and economic control is evident. Europe has kicked it out, and even more suspiciously, the U.S. has used political threats, attempting to reopen the doors through intimidation. Some African countries suffering from the worst food shortages will not allow GMO seeds into their countries, even in the form of food aid, without it being first milled to prevent it from being planted. But here, in the U.S., 80% of the food supply is now genetically modified, and the majority of Americans are unaware.
If patented bioengineered seeds are the savior they are claimed to be, why are nations so slow and even resistant to embracing the technology? As Henry Kissinger, the champion of Agribusiness, said: “..if you control the food, you control the people.” It’s time to wake up.